Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte continues to stand by remarks in which he criticised the deity worshipped by the purveyors of organised religion as “stupid” while describing his own faith as a belief in a universal God who is logical, loving and forgiving. When answering questions regarding a possible apology over his remarks which were aimed at the Roman Catholic Church, Duterte said he would not apologise “in a million years”.
Duterte also went on to quote from the Bible, specifically Ecclesiastes 3 where he paraphrased scripture to convey to his audience that there is a time and a place for all sorts of attitudes, behaviours and forms of action. Duterte said,
“You know if there is a page in the Bible which I read almost everyday, it’s the Ecclesiastes 3: For every season there is always a time, there’s a time to be calm, there’s a time to be silent, there’s a time to be poignant, a time to be subdued and a time to be vicious.
We are not precluded from being sometimes vicious because, as the Ecclesiastes says, it’s the Bible, there is always a time – a time to be proper and a time to be a shit. That’s really how it is. And all because this is planet earth, it is not heaven, and so the constraints that are placed on a soul is not really applicable to us”.
Duterte further stated that he had purposefully tested the limits of traditional discourse in order to awaken a new spirit of vitality, critical thought, a re-examination of people’s relationship with organised religion and to awaken people from a social atmosphere where such things have languished in “the doldrums”.
Duterte went on to say,
“I’m shaking the tree…It could be quiet and there’s something dark, something bright, something sinister and there is something which is, we just go along with life however presented to us by the different sectors”.
Duterte has clearly joined a long list of politicians, artists, revolutionaries and activists across the developing post-colonial world in guiding his countrymen and women to embrace views of religion which accept and worship God as a universal God of all the world, rather than merely the deity that a colonial entity forced upon conquered or enslaved subjects. Jomo Kenyatta, the first Prime Minister and later President of Kenya is thought to have coined the following quote on the matter of religion and colonialism:
“When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the Land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible”.
Likewise, Muhammad Ali spoke similarly when telling interviewer Michael Parkinson that he had never preached against wealth and earthly happiness but had instead used his position as an activist and spiritual authority to tell his people that the key to happiness lies in a rejection of the colonial mentality which posits that only white offspring of imperialists have a right to earthly pleasures while others must wait for an afterlife. When challenged by the white television host, Ali said,
“We teach our people that heaven is not in the sky — heaven is on earth. Hell is not underground — hell is on earth. The white man told us that heaven is in the sky and hell is under the ground and he takes everything in the middle”.
Likewise Bob Marley offered frequent criticisms of organised religion throughout his poetic lyrics. Marley once said,
“Every man got a right to decide his own destiny, and in this judgement there is no partiality”.
This lyric relates to Duterte’s own preaching against original sin and a God that is brutal in his judgements rather than compassionate in his forgiveness. Marley also said,
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds”.
Likewise, it is Duterte who is working to emancipate his countrymen and women from the mental slavery passed down through generations of neo-colonial clerical “leadership” and the misguided policies of countless politicians. Indeed, Libyan revolutionary leader Muammar Gaddafi warned of putting clerics in a position of political power as the Catholic establishment in The Philippines have persistently sought to do. Gaddafi who like Duterte was a deeply spiritual man but one who was not afraid to challenge religious leaders with political ambitions, stated,
“Once a ruler becomes religious, it becomes impossible for you to debate with him. Once someone rules in the name of religion, your lives become hell”.
When discussing a rejection of any one path to God, Christian Bishop and anti-Apartheid activist Desmond Tutu stated,
“God is not upset that Gandhi was not a Christian, because God is not a Christian! All of God’s children and their different faiths help us to realize the immensity of God”.
Tutu who himself was a cleric rejected the supremacy of any one clerical path to divinity and likewise, Duterte has rejected narrow institutional dogma in favour of a universal and fraternal approach to divine peace and wisdom.
In joining the ranks of many historic and recent revolutionaries, poets, activists and leaders throughout the developing in using his position to inspire a new kind of faith and indeed a renewed view of faith among his people that has been sorely lacking for decades if not for centuries, Duterte has not harmed but has elevated both the level of political and spiritual discourse in The Philippines.
The key to elevating the condition of the people in any developing nation with negative colonial experiences is to place them in a position where they can take spiritual ownership of their own destiny, while seeking and hopefully finding spiritual redemption and inspiration on their terms rather than those set by corrupt neo-colonial institutions.
Far from attacking God or those who believe in God, Duterte has created an atmosphere where people can now lead a more spiritual existence than before by discovering that true faith and devotion does not come from institutions but from the heart of every man and woman. Duterte exposed his deepest, most cherished thoughts to all Filipinos and the wider world and in so doing, his words are now indelibly inscribed beside those of secular prophets of the modern age who have helped people to reach fulfilment by embracing God while rejecting those who claim to exclusively speak for Him.